tv In Depth In Depth with Gish Jen CSPAN August 25, 2018 6:05am-7:05am EDT
they were doing this millennials special. it was the turn of the century and so they asked all these people who they felt were preeminent in their fields. to name their successor for the 21st century. kate twiggy chose take moss, and john updike for reasons i never understood chose me. so here's this incredibly auguste man i've never met. i did not even knew my name. we had our picture taken together but i never got to ask him why. >> host: are you a fan of john updike? >> guest: of course i am a fan. but i would not of said he was a major influence on the accept for somewhat indirectly. indirectly he was an influence on us all and that's because here i am, i've immigrant roots compare interested in america. i see america, everything.
i think updike gives the idea that's what the novel was for. the novel was for capturing america and writing america, one of the adventure of america. i have no idea. it was to capture merit in these books. that was his project. i think he could see me somebody come maybe he understood there was more to america than just what we saw in the rabbit books and think maybe some somebody was going to carry on the project and in that he was right. he was right. there was something else that was interesting about updike, and that all the things he valued in fiction, he really valued people what he called a relationship with will pick it like this he called the nose
press class quality. of course there's no one who has their nose pressed more firmly to the class than the daughter of immigrants. here i am in this world and that's my knows he's talking about. so there is a way which updike was hugely influential although i would not have said that. because probably before meeting him and get them thinking about how it influenced me in this indirectly i probably would've said something like white wasp author, i'm writing against him. probably would've said that but in truth even as a vote may be a little bit against people like that i was carrying on their deeper project. to write against him, think he's your writing against income is like rebuilding against your parents -- rebelling against your parents.
like writing against updike but it's all about updike. >> host: when you look at some of her novels, "typical american," "world and town," "mona in the promised land," short stories in "who's irish?" are you writing the great american novel? >> guest: i don't think, i don't know if there is a great american novel but i do think of my so that adding to the american narrative. if you ask me like what did i imagine, what in the wild streams like what is the ultimate thing i'm doing, i would say not just me but lots of people like me were trying to add volume to the library of america. the way we can tell the story of america without updike. then the jews did it. you can't talk about the 20th century without the jews and that is fine with the way saying like we are really here. we are not here as visitors. we are not to risk passing
through. we are really here. there's way which many of us were all sort of saying, you know what, us, too, we are also here. so there is a way like us i don't think it's about the great american novel but it is about adding to our picture of america in a permanently. >> host: you mentioned one of her favorite writers, the jewish ghetto experience. is there an asian american genre treader at him know there's an asian american genre but i do know there is a way in which, i was influenced by the jewish, you know that. but when i think about what they meant to me, is really kind of an example of what was involved in adding this volume, the library of america. and that is that they took such
different -- balogh, roth, cynthia, grace kelly, my very dear grace kelly. they were all going at the same problem but in such different ways. bella took a hybrid meaning no ethnic markers. hard to tell if he was jewish in many ways. with all of his jewish but he does going to make an ethic white which is what do that. we are all the exact opposite. it's like i am jewish, and neither is in-your-face, america. much more soulful kind of approach. grace pauly rejects the idea was only be a writer, the writer is not part of your social activism. she's out in the streets protesting all the time. cindy manages to make a name synonymous with henry james.
it's something we really don't appreciate today, kind of what chutzpah it took for this jewish american girl to make herself the person every time we were reading thing that henry james, blah, blah, blah we always had to go to cynthia. jewish girl. she's the expert. there's a lot of chutzpah. but what it took away and this goes back to the pushbutton great american novel is that all of the above. the answer is no one path, there is no one way of doing what we need to do. we need to do all the ways, all just be going at it in every possible way. whether it's bringing in the jewish humor, where the bring in the jewish soulfulness, tremendous deep sense of morality, you know what i mean? whether we're going to take amanda wrote or whether we will with henry james, whether we will be in the streets?
the answers all of the above because we've a challenge. >> host: most, and all your protagonists are asian-american women. did you write a white male wasp peace? >> guest: of course. ralph chang is typical american male. it's not they are not all american asian women. actually my very first published story had no ethnic markers at all. my very first published story was called bellying up. i was in the iowa writers workshop 1981, i'm in a forms class with arbeiter named barry hannah, a sexist guy, i will say. anyway, he had this contest in his class which was the carver writer like this contest. the idea was right a thesis for
him. the women perceiving probably accurately that a woman would never win this contest we all site are stories william carver. i did write the story and i did when. i still have we found out -- who wrote this? i thought shit, it's me. anyway, but that very first piece had nothing, there's nothing asian, asian american company thing about protagonists and a guy named barry lost his job and he's waiting for scoping to come out of the bathroom where she is hiding from him. and, no, and so i i can write that. like is that i got that, i want to contest. it's clear i can do that. of course, i think all the different ways we had to go about remaking america to a writing project. of course given american asian
women on the page, course as part of my project. not to write about that nearly like mothers and daughters but you can writing about religion fundamentalism, whatever you writing about the nature of art, there's nothing about using an asian-american female protagonist that said writing but in these big subjects. the answer is of course. of course, it is asian-american women like people everywhere are a concern with politics, you know, with everything possible question. it's not like they are in this little group with liberty but what it means to be asian-american. >> host: often here in booktv we are about the iowa writers workshop. how has that sustained itself? what does it do that makes it so successful?
>> guest: it was the earliest workshop. the time that i applied to iowa, there were really only three big programs. now there are a gazillion but that's a big change. so there was iowa, stanford and hopkins. iowa was like five times bigger than any of the other programs. at the time i was, you probably i dropped out of stanford business school to become a writer. my boyfriend husband was there but i just felt like this thisa bigger, you know, program, you will see more, morgan internet. as a got that early, kind of the early advantage. also i would did not have a shtick. hopkins had a little bit of shtick. little bit because of john
burrow. iowa is always a place with the kind of just let you be an kind of encourage you to do whatever that meant. it was for me a fantastic choice as it happened because my first teacher there, very influential, james mcpherson, you know, pulitzer prize winner in author, wrote many wonderful books, and it was conveniently for someone like me and immigrant who kind of didn't really know what america was, always busy discovering america. i had my nose up against the glass. and he was interested in writing about america. many years later when of my classmates gave me a birthday present. what was in the present? the present was a poster woman named eileen pollock. the poster was a patient with photograph and enemies with the words american vision.
that's what we are taught about all the time. kind of this invention, the american project what did that mean lex and the idea that was part of what we should be doing as writers. that's not what anybody thinks provider should be doing. many people would say that's kind of, you are too close, you are too close to a social project. that this is not about art for arts sake. it was very much in dialogue with your context. so some people say that's not the highest -- i don't care if it is or not. italy, likely for me at first teacher was not interested in art for arts sake pick is interested in a kind of novel that was very much involved with america. so i worked for me was just a quick tour is because there is a wonderful teachers there i will
save but that's another thing. the teachers come in and out, there's not like one big writer whose kind of dominating the program. you have a lot of different people coming in, a wonderful thing. >> host: iowa is an interesting place to be i will say, for somebody like me who is very wide coastal. when i first got iowa, tiny little airport and my father had come with me. they didn't have a chat with it like that. they bring the luggage out, basically they open the door and you could see the airstrip right the other. somebody took my suitcase. my father millie said that's her suitcase. i just helping you, sir. you know? i mean, it was a revelation to
us. both the furnace but also kind of the xenophobia i will say, too. it is also a place where another writer and i, too asian americans around were once out hitchhiking, you know, people are like who are you? we were towbar and everybody and everybody stopped talking. a little xenophobic. i do what pain as a kind kind of paradise but there's something else there, very wonderful for me. it was kind of , was in a recent hometown of cambridge, massachusetts, that somebody told you to go back to where you came from? >> guest: yes. it happened yesterday. you saw that on facebook. i was at fresh pond. i lived in massachusetts which is very liberal. generally, just a kind of idyllic place, in general, not
entirely, , right? i was there, , took a walk witha friend. it is a place where only cambridge residents are supposed be parking, but many others do, and parking walk around. there was this woman traveling up and down unofficially of course, to make sure everybody there really had a cambridge parking sticker. she's trolling up and down. but really yelling at people like what are you doing here? i pay taxes to support this place. she got to me and she said where is your sticker? and i said it's up here. cambridge just this year changed the places we put your sticker. up until last you put your sticker on the back of the car. this year the site of the corporate honestly you can see all the stickers on the back, you can tell soma has been the public 15 years. my stickers and when should i say it's right here. she clearly didn't believe me. what caller is it?
i said to her, you know, why don't you, why do you want to know? why should i tell you? she said i'm protecting people. and i said i don't think you're protecting people. i think you are harassing people. she merely says what you mean on harassing people? you go home, go back from where you came from. just like that. so the answer is i think this is true of all places that are two faces, depends on who you're talking to, a general culture and there's always some undertone. >> host: you repurchase of as an immigrant a couple times. were you not born in new york city? >> guest: daughter of immigrants. i was born in long island. i am second-generation. did i say i'm an immigrant? i usually don't let that slip. but no, i am a daughter of immigrants, born on long island. >> host: you took a rather
strange route to get to the iowa writers workshop. walk us through that. >> guest: well, you know, should i go back to the very beginning? >> host: why don't we start with college. go back to the beginning of college. you were going to be a doctor or ceo? >> guest: i thought i would be -- you know, there i was. i was an english major. i was at harvard, an english major, undergrad. as an english major i did take this course, english 283 which is with the wonderful translator, robert fitzgerald whose translations of the iliad and odyssey are still my favorite of course. i took this course because i felt i was a junior and i was an english major at i didn't really -- poetry had to be written in those little lines. why don't they just say what they mean? i took this course and i thought if i take this course i will
finally understand, and that was two. what i didn't realize is he said this will be a weekly exercise and i did not realize he meant it a weekly exercise in first. that is going to be like paper. the very first week i was like oh my god, and so straight something -- i can barely say it today. i sat down to write my poem and get as soon as i started writing it, i loved it. i did take to my limit at the time, i loved it. i could do this for the rest of my life. which i am the daughter of immigrants but i've never known a writer. people like me did not become poets. i was premed at the time. i had already been prelaw. he was one who sat me down and said why are you premed rex the question i couldn't answer very well. i had just gotten a c in chemistry i think. the other signals that maybe
this is not the right path for me. fitzgerald was a one to say i think you should do something with words, and if you're not going to be a a poet which is t he thought i should do, you should at least like be in publishing or something. he did give me my first job. now realize it's one of those legendary harvard stories. he called up his editor at double the inset i have a student give her a job. so my first job was in publishing. that said, i have been prelaw. i have been premed. even after i was already in publishing and i taken my first writing class, that teacher had said with this new little piece about dogs and henry james, i don't know, and he said you should really be a writer. people have told me that but even at the beginning, then i wanted to do something practical so i thought if i can't decide
can maybe i will try the more practical course first of a can't decide because i felt i was going to be able to make a living and do what he wanted. i went to stanford business school, of all places. very confused young woman. i went to stanford over harvard because they had a good writing program. like i say, i was very confused. i met my now husband, almost the first day. he had exempted out of everything, so impressed. not only did he know all this course, i was like what is microeconomics? i said oh my god, like that is -- you can take courses across the street, meaning the regular university. he looked at me and said but that's not what it before. i remember thinking he knows what he is here for. what do i do? i'm totally in the wrong place.
and so i did, i was intending to finish. i am the daughter of immigrants, you don't start a program and drop out. but i found the first day of the second year, i overslept. second day i overslept. third day i overslept. i was never going to be able to get myself to go to class. so i took a leave of absence i went to china for your instead, i wonderful year in china. but with very funny about business school class still claims a so they always say there are two well-known dropouts from this class. one is gish jen and one is steve palmer, ceo of microsoft, two very, very different outcomes. but in any case i did drop out. my parents could not forgive me for doing this. for so because my mom did not speak to me. you know, you --, literally did
not speak to you? >> guest: literally did not speak to me. very upset. i have been going part because i grew up in scarsdale. partly because i been reading. i had been reading really all these subversive books, and i have been growing with american self that was very, very different than the nice chinese girl self. i had just kind of cross that line where i couldn't go back to the lillian jen, they know of my youth. i couldn't go back anymore. had to go forward. >> host: if you are tuning into booktv now and our little surprised to see a novelist on, this is part of our special "in depth" fiction edition all year long with the first sunday of the month we're featuring novelists. this month we are pleased that gish jen is joining us. very quickly here are some of
her books, if you're not familiar with her. "typical american" came out in 1991. "mona in the promised land" in 96. who's i wish a collection of short stories in 1999. "the love wife" in 2004, "world and town" came out in 2010. her most recent books happen to be nonfiction. "tiger writing" in 2013 and the girl at the baggage claim is some last you could choose going to our guest for the next two and a half hours. if you like to dive in and talk with her, here's how you can do so. 202-748-8200 for those in 488200 for those in the eastern/central time zones or (202)748-8201 if you live out west or in the mountains. you can also contact us via social media @booktv ever handle. for facebook, instagram as well as twitter and other email firstname.lastname@example.org. we. we will cycle through those as the show goes.
you'll see them on the bottom of your screen so you don't worry if you don't, didn't catch it right now. gish jen, in your writing and want to start with "who's irish?" first of all your husband's last name is o'connor. did that influence the title of this collection of short stories? >> guest: of course is one of the reasons i know what it means to be irish-american because i married an o'connor and he does come from one of those boston clans, like they've been there forever. everybody is ready to everybody else so i know a little bit about that world. >> host: did you get blowback for the essay and the dialect that the narrator use? >> guest: i did not. it's kind of surprising, what about from yourself, did your trouble writing it that way? >> guest: what is true is to be at an ethic right in america means so many things. there's so many ways in which
you see your identity is that you are in dialogue with your body. one of the ways from you is it was clear to me that i i couldt write in that voice. if i had written the same story before typical american, instead of to the new yorker i'm sure people would've sent back and said wonderful story, be happy when your english is better. in other words, there would noticing that it was -- they would've thought i did know english very well. that story would depend on the fact i already established myself as somebody who's very fluent in english. do you know what i'm saying? i don't reestablish that voice or the fact that it was an author, and so this is -- each book gave me permission to write a new kind of book. of course i had written "mona in
the promised land" in this kind of new york jewish voice, to go from a new york at that point to write in another kind of voice, immigrant chinese voice, was something i'd already done the jewish boys so i i could do ths voice, too, right? but you're right there's a way which i had to kind of an establish myself in a way to write in a voice that was very familiar to me. because there was way in which, my parents grew up -- in truth we spoke a lot of chenglish. interestingly, recently my daughter and i went to go visit my in the hospital. my daughter was born here does have that much contact but buti could hear her simplifying her speech to get across to my mother, you know? my mother, her english isn't it but she's sick and she's a
little out of it. i could hear her simplifying speech and i'm like my daughter is speaking chenglish. kind of interesting. there's a way it can apart all the way back to even further. but yes, for this story i did the kind of go back to what may be probably my first language really, and -- >> host: are you fluent in mandarin? >> guest: no, no, no. i'm the sort of perennial chinese student. when i'm in beijing people are say to me, you can't say anymore that you don't speak chinese budget axes speak chinese. on the foot because i feel that if i i speak chinese i sound gd enough that people -- i can't follow it. but i will say that yes, my english, my first english was
very heavily overlaid with chinese everything, including chinese grammar. so when i studied chinese, the grammar was no problem. i'm like yes, i mean, just the order of things was completely natural to me because of the fact that early english, we were speaking in that order. even talking about it, you see how my english is getting a little screwed up. so the answer is that the sentence structure closed very natural to me. >> host: b.i.d. jiffy and pidgin english. you know what that term counsel? >> i don't know where the term comes from. did you know? >> host: i don't. i was hoping you would try do i should know. >> host: you talked about mona and writing in the jewish boys. mona was a chinese-american girl from scars heal new york. a little bit of biographical elbit unit? >> guest: there is. i grew up in scarsdale, new york, and scar still is in the
novel obviously. a relative of scarsdale, and, of course, i was interested in the because writing about america, fascinating to me i both grown up in a place, a minority with the majority. also it's such a point, the book is set in 1968 and so just at a point where dealing with the civil rights movement, i'm black and the bread and the jews are saying i'm jewish and a printer i was supposed to send if it's a asian and a present. asian and i am jewish, you know? which is true i think of most people in the new york area, the fact of the matter is that jewish culture very much informed like the way we joke, everybody knows kiddush, you know? i guess i was interested in this hybrid self -- kiddush. i will say that jewish tinged voice was also voice i knew amazingly well.
so there's way and wish i know this dialect of english extremely well. i'm very, very easy for me to write in it. i thought that in itself spoke to the actual complexity of life in america and the entries right now it's very fashionable for people to say like i need to go to college and 82 -- you look like me. or reflects me. who exactly would that be? for me would have to be somebody who came from one background but grew up in new york and, therefore, had become a little jewish. you know what i mean? i think it's too simple to source a somebody who looks like me, they are black hair is like me. that's just not the case. >> host: when you're in china to chinese to your american? >> guest: sometimes just and sometimes no. my students when i taught at
beijing normal university for a semester, and my students would say that they would know me by the way i walked. i walked in and american way. if i was not walking they would not know. once i started walking they would know. >> host: 202-748-8200 (202) 74r those of you in eastern time zone. 8201 for those in the mountain and pacific time zones. let's hear from can who's calling in from atlanta. are you with us? sorry about that. i don't know -- maybe if i push the button. can you hear me okay. >> host: i apologize to you. it's my fault. please go ahead. >> caller: i work with the
georgia general assembly and all 50 legislators are about to roll out a project in citizenship this year and were going to encourage students in every school to get together and do the stories about their own elementary, high school, and we have discovered not all in georgia but other places that most americans are associated with organizations like religions and schools and government, and know almost nothing about the organization that they spend most of the vice associated with. and i just wanted to let you know about it because we're also going to reach professional writers so that they can be available to the schools where they went to school, where you
went to elementary school and high school, and you would be, being an artist like you are, it would be a great example for young people. i just wanted to share the idea with you. >> guest: that is a fantastic idea. i have to say i have written a lot about growing up in scarsdale, new york, and i would be thrilled if they were to invite me back. i think, i was also that while you are inviting people, you should invite people from other areas as well. i don't know if you know the group pinfall. washington. they bring writers from all over the world into the d.c. schools. i i would encourage you to get n touch with them and see whether you can likewise be bringing writers from all of into your school. i have to say that this program is fantastically successful.
really a great delight for the writers and, of course, for the students it's just a fantastic thing as well. more power to you. >> host: you mention your parents a couple of times. who were they or are they? >> guest: my father has passed away. my mother is still alive. my parents were immigrants from china, so what -- >> host: what year? >> guest: 1943 would be my father, towards the end of the war. so what happened in my fathers case is that there were talks during the war, the second world war up opening a second front against the japanese in the shanghai harbor. so they needed hydraulic engineers to help with this effort. so they had an exam, the transportation department this exam. my father scored very high on this exam so he was one of the people he was supposed to this. and you can to go to the united
states. so he was sent of course you couldn't cross the pacific, it was too dangerous point so all the way overland, over the hump as they say into india all the way across europe, the atlantic, by the time the chinese got to get states the war was over. he did stay to get his phd at the university of minnesota, and then because he is getting wite intention of going back, but then in 1949 of course the communists took over and what is not a well-known chapter of mechanistic and the u.s. government struck a deal with the nationalists in china to keep the chinese students here. because at the time they got all the cream of the chinese science community were in the united states, like my father getting a phd. they all wanted to go back, but people try to go back and literally taken off the boat and
hawaii. they were not allowed to go back because they fear was all the scientist would go back and help the communists. they were luckier. my father was offered citizenship then under a refugee act. my father said i'm not a refugee. i am a political prisoner. he refused to submit for the american -- i grew up with an undocumented father. my father was an illegal citizen. he was a stateless citizen. it was not clear what country was his country, and but he was i was a very good at engineering. my mother came interestingly, there didn't plan plan to marry her off while she had not wanted to be married off, and kind of in the ensuing awkwardness i guess, they sent her off to get a graduate degree in america as well. and so she also kind of got
caught here. she was a citizen because she had come via her local church. she had gone to a catholic church in high school in shanghai, and so she was affiliated with the church so they help to become a citizen. she became a citizen. i thought like i said would have nothing to do with it. i will say they had, being an immigrant then was really -- my father had tremendous sense of humor. he would always tell the stories with a laugh. he would tell stories like about when he first got here, it was not, people did not think the chinese could do engineering. kind of a a funny thing today given the stereotypes we have today but at the time they didn't think they could do engineering. my father was out in the field with a bunch of u.s. army people, and they had at this guy with him so they gave him an
algebra book to study any given back the next day. they said you finish the book and when i? he said yeah, yeah, yeah. the next day they gave him another book, geometry. the more he gets it back. finished that book one night? yeah, yeah, yeah. they give a trigonometry book. meanwhile they're trying to fix this bridge. the bridge is a truss bridge and the want to replace one of these trusses. they're having a lot of trouble doing that. my father said why don't you put a truck on the end of the bridge and you can fix the bridge? this was his first day. they ignore him because he's chinese people what does he know? the second he says why don't you put a truck on the end of the bridge and did you can fix that truss? they ignore him. the third day he says why don't you put a truck on the edge of the bridge? finally they put a truck on the into the bridge and, of course, takes the weight off and they can fix the trust. my father always told us would
like it was the funniest thing ever. like can you believe this? a lot of people today would be offended, and our time the thing like, everybody is offended if my father always told like what is the matter they can't fix a bridge? the person who can fix the bridge is right with them. but, of course, this is just the story of his life. he laughed about it but a lot of it was very difficult. he did among the things he worked on the beltway right here in d.c., one of the engineers. the chinese engineers and then they get a lot of this kind of work but it always did it as kind of the equivalent of an adjunct professor jay. they didn't have real jobs. they were hired for the job at the end of the job they were all fired. they were never promoted into management ever. and there was a lesson in that. it was not so much as matt about it so much as told him that this
is a tough place and yeah, i guess instilled the kind of realism in him about what he's going to have to do. to make it here here if you think about it, very flexible view of that, i will say. willing to do whatever it took. i think it's willing to my idea about the jewish writers. you try all the different ways. it's not one with all the different ways. my father was very much like that. >> host: 1949 occurs in a lot of your books. why is that? >> guest: well of course that's the year china is liberated or fell, depend on your perspective. it's just a huge historical moment. and it is that time for pretty much i guess every chinese, chinese american where something is changed about your identity, right? if you are a nationalist with
the old government that had just fallen from your summary part of this government and part of this world that has kind of, had been the dominant power and is now kind of in control of this little island, taiwan, which no one had heard of the time. all of a sudden you're in exile over there, then of course overtime you're using a writing system that is no longer the dominant writing system. you using a method that is no longer the dominant method and all these changes are all traced back to 1949, the communists have one. for people, you can almost imagine for my pitcher, it was just unreal. you decided to do graduate work in china and while you were there, the united states fell,
your whole country is gone. your neighborhood, everything is upside down. nobody he remember as being in power is in power anymore. you can only imagine the shock. >> host: glenn is in michigan. good afternoon. you are on with author gish jen. do you know what? i have to push the button. [laughing] i have done this once or twice before. i apologize to you. go ahead. >> caller: that's no problem. thank you all very much. before i asked my question i'd like to make a quick comment, if i could, about what ms. jen will sing about 68 and lack of fat and all that. i can understand that with certain ethnic groups, racial and ethnic groups like irish, et cetera, chinese that had a
history of historic discrimination in this nation. at this point though i think we be better off if everyone would just be a human being and humble, if you know what i mean. anyway, my question is, i was listening to her talk on norman mailer some years ago, and he said that when it comes to writing fiction, the worst person you could have as a narrator is yourself. it should just be somebody you're comfortable with. my question would be, how much action that she think is really basically autobiographical writing in that kind of pain? thanks very much. >> host: thanks. >> guest: that is such an excellent question. people, especially if it done a good job people always do think that is really you, right? they think that it must be you. of course it is your job to make it seem that way, but, in fact,
just as norman mailer said the worst possible thing you could ever do is write a book where you are the author, the narrator and it is your life. not interesting enough to be a novel. they are not structured like a novel, and more importantly the facts are often not as interesting as the facts told -- i will say that because they grew up with what seemed to be an underrepresented world, the world my father grew up in, it was not on the page. figures like me and scarsdale new york were not on the page. it was a natural thing for me to use those worlds, and the rules of those worlds to inform my fiction. but if you look at a book like -- i am not motor. i am extremely not mona.
none of that happened. the way that it is autobiographical though i will say is that tensions in the book are my tensions. gertrude stein once said an interesting thing. she said the artist works by locating the work in itself. we all wish that should set herself of course, but the fact of the matter is that as a result of our contact with the world we have all developed nerves and sensitivities. it's my opinion that if you can find one of those nerves, you will have a book but it was much more and it will be very personal because they are your nerves, but it will be far more interesting than the facts of your life. we know the nerve in mona is a chinese girl turned jewish bitwise at funny? it's really literally i used to
say i will keep beds of index cards, these little spiral-bound notebooks and i would write ideas that london and then i will flip through the years later look of ideas. i came to the card that said mona turns jewish. because a monopolist i thought what's that about? why is that funny? why is irish american girl turned jewish funny? what is the difference between chinese american and jewish american? is there something, isn't something that's different about it? and why? i felt like a win if there is in europe there, that's why i'm laughing sure enough there was a big nerve and the book wrote itself. like i say, it is i biographical in the sense that with minor -- autobiographical but it's not, i'm not jewish and i've never really thought about converting to judaism. and all the facts of the book are all made up.
it's autobiographical, it's a dream that you are able to have and it tells a kind of truth that is like the truth in dreams. it's not the facts, truism is the factually. many people talk about assuming a mask, kind of the truth in mask. that's a very wise thing. in fiction we assume a mask that we can get at the truth which is true or then kind of mere truth, if you will. >> host: humor is a pretty concept throughout your work. >> guest: yes, yes, yes. i think people often ask where you get this from? i will say my father was this funny. my father had tremendous sense of humor and like i say things of the people would be very upset about, my father always
laughed about. and, of course, the nature of my material lends itself. i think which are releasing is with all these constructs of the world, what a chinese american is. that is so far off, like the gap between that and reality is so large. because we have this picture and a 12, seven chinese-american everything she does is kind of wrong and everything she does is kind of funny. so to me the humor is good novel because laughing is good for you and we enjoy humor, but there's a truth underneath it because every single time we laugh at something that mona does, we laugh because we realize, our picture was wrong, right? it's a good kind of humor i
think. >> host: this battle of an old quote i'm going to read to you here, but i want to get your reaction to see if it still stands up. from 1991 in the nuke times, my thumb and a i didn't like most with white america which looking back was partly wishful thinking, hardly racism and partly an acknowledgment that whatever else we did face, at least we didn't have to contend with the legacy of slaves. >> guest: that is true. that i said that in 1991? >> host: you did according to "new york times." >> guest: i surely got it right because it's in the "new york times." that would be true. it would be very hard for me then to identify as asian-american but it's true just in a gentle kind of way, like the jewish americans we were kind of a middle minority. i always saw us, we were not, we might have identified as whites
going up but it quickly became apparent we were not white, but we were the minority that was not african-american. and i will say you can be black and also not be the minority that is african-american-nigerian americans are great example of a yes, they are black at the also do not have this legacy and i think there is a huge wall between all the minorities that have lots to deal with, there is plenty to deal with, especially today, and people who actually may have been in america since the get go and to of been slaves and that's a huge divide turn let's hear from patty in wisconsin. i've got the button. you are on booktv with author gish jen. >> caller: thank you for sharing this subject. my youngest nephew is adopted
from the philippines. he came as an infant. he's a beautiful, wonderful man in his 30s by the handle cisc rumination with humor also. i had a private conversation with him and i said are you just covering? he said no, it's just have to do. and i'm so thankful and appreciative but unlike to punch everybody's lights out that does he seem a little bit. god bless you. thank you. >> guest: make you so much. this is just a little like what is saying about the jewish writers. there's no right or wrong. some people are very offended and really angry and outspoken, event of the people who can kind of shrugged and laugh. i personally feel like this is as a matter of personal preference i'm happy to come person tends to shrug and laugh. i just think it's an easier and happier way of being. but there's no right or wrong. i guess there's a way in which i am grateful for the people are
angry and kind of that in the angry mode. there's a way in which they enable me to laugh, if you know what i mean. an interesting thing about her writing, she cried so i could laugh. there is a way which that is also true, that she cried so i could laugh. all i can say is that those of us who can laugh, we must laugh in footnote and say and say thank you, maxine kingston. we must footnote and say thank you, all james baldwin, all you people who are angry. we must acknowledge that like a say we are all part of an ecosystem and some of us are freed of really to be one way by people who are another way. >> host: first of all where did your name come from? >> guest: i was born lillian
jen, and that was actually a very elegant name that i've been given by my mother because my chinese name was -- [inaudible] it sounds like lillian. also they both have the same root. they both have lily as a root. so it's very elegant name. i was named for the lotus that grows up out of the mud but opens up. as it opened up my mother thinking this is not the pure white lily i had in mind. and so i'm going along with this really very beautiful i'm going along with this really beautiful name. when i was a junior in high school i went always -- i was a junior in high school and part of the creative writing group.
this is where i took on. everybody got a nickname, we were inventing ourselves, going into new york city to watch cinema. i had a friend, and my name was lillian so they called me gish. and actress whose movies i had never seen. had i known she was in the birth of a nation i would have been horrified. it was a nickname a couple people used in limited circumstances until i went away in the summer to an archaeological dig. i am away from home, the building was hit by lightning,
we go around the circle like candlelight, there is no premeditation whatsoever and introduced myself as gish jen, don't know what came over me. today i know this is something a lot of writers do, tennessee williams, at the time i didn't know this business with highly associated with how to be a writer but i will say the idea of self invention was on my mind, gish jen did all these things, keeping windows open, speaking to animals and in general carrying on with the kind of freedom based on an
american freedom that lillian jen did not have. i will say over the years, gish jen has different handwriting then lillian jen. from my catholic school upbringing, gish jen is a completely different thing. there was a kind of emergency, i had to write something before i went out the door. the answer was gish jen. i can only write one thing in my old handwriting now and that is my name. except for my checks i don't use that at all, it is gone. i could see it but literally can't do it anymore. it becomes this other person. my very first story, published
as lillian jen, almost said who is she? as soon as they said that, that is so right, a person who writes these stories, it is not lillian jen. this is kind of a pain. >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979 c-span was created as a public service by america's cable-television companies. we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court and public policy events in washington dc. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. >> michael avenatti is a lawyer for adult film star stormy
daniels. he attended an event in new hampshire where he talked about his opposition to donald trump and how the democratic party should challenge him in the election. he suggested he is considering a presidential run. this is just under an hour. >> thank you for asking me. i appreciate it very much. anything else i can do? >> how are you? you are jack, right? >> over here. >> let's do it.